Today we take another important step with Jesus into the mystery of his life and his mission. Together with the Apostles we see him rise from the earth and be taken into Heaven. The Ascension of the Lord is a mystery that is familiar to us as the Second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary. After Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, he appeared many times in different places to prove to his disciples that he was really physically alive. But after forty days, he wanted them to understand something more. He was not simply alive; he was somehow more alive. More than life in this world, he had the fullness of life; he had eternal life in glory with the Father. He was not only alive on earth; he was also living in Heaven. He was not only together with his disciples; he was also together with his Father in glory.
How could he show us this? How could he show us that he is with us on earth and also in Heaven? If he had continued to appear on earth as he did for forty days, we would probably limit our understanding of him to his appearances in the world, and we would focus on the places where we saw him. We would be looking toward Jerusalem all the time or to the Holy Land. On the other hand, if he had simply disappeared after Easter, we would not understand where he was. What happened to him? He just disappeared! With his Ascension, then, in a very beautiful way, Jesus shows us that he is with us, and he is in Heaven with the Father.
Many people have some wrong ideas about the Ascension, and about where Jesus really is. Since he was “lifted up into a cloud,” we might think he is somewhere in the clouds. To be clear, Jesus is not in the clouds. When we say he ascended, we do not mean that he moved his body to a higher physical location. People in an airplane 30,000 feet above the earth are not any closer to Jesus than people on land.
Another wrong idea is that Jesus simply went away and left us behind, and that after some time he will come back again. That is incorrect. He himself promised that he would remain with us always, until the end of time (cf. Mt 28:20). We should not think that now there is a disconnection between us and Jesus Christ, which would imply that there is no contact point between us and God. This feast is not about the absence of the Lord but about a new way of his being present with us.
Jesus has not left us behind. Rather, he has brought our humanity into Heaven with him. Now he is interceding for us to the Father, “that he might now appear before God on our behalf.” He is presenting us to the Father, acting as our eternal high priest before him and uniting us with him. We remember his words: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). That is what he is doing now, drawing all of us into union with the Father. He is our Head, and we are his Body. The Head and the Body cannot be separated – unless we choose by sin to separate ourselves from him. For his part, he wants us to be with him in the fullness of life.
The immediate effect of the Ascension on the disciples was that they were filled “with great joy” and they “were continually in the temple praising God.” Today is not a day of sorrow or loss, but a feast of great joy. It is a feast of hope that we can be with Jesus in glory. We begin to be in Heaven with him this very day! This feast opens our eyes to this new and fuller way Jesus is present in the world. We realize that, because of the Ascension, he is more present than ever. He is not only in Jerusalem or in Galilee or some place on earth; he is everywhere with his people, and we can communicate with him everywhere through prayer.
So, let us rejoice on this day of the Ascension, as the disciples did, praising God in the temple. The celebration will continue and deepen on Pentecost Sunday when we welcome the gift of the Holy Spirit. For now our hearts are filled with hope and joy because we have a connection with the Lord that cannot be broken. We have the presence of the Lord within us and among us and his presence is not going to end. Our hearts and minds are lifted up beyond the concerns of this world, and we are filled with confidence in the presence and power of God.
How does the Ascension of Jesus increase my longing for eternal life with him? What is my inner response knowing that Jesus is in heaven interceding for me with his Father? How am I witnessing to the joy of the Ascension to those I meet?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.